English - Small Arms Survey
Small Arms Survey 2013: Chapter 1 Summary
Non-Conflict Armed Violence
Between 2004 and 2009, an average of 526,000 people died violently each year, but only 10 per cent of them qualified as direct
conflict deaths. International attention, however, has traditionally focused on interstate or civil wars, even though academic research
shows that since 2005 war between states has accounted for only a small portion of all armed conflicts.
The term post-conflict gained currency at the end of the cold war. Yet since armed conflict does not always produce a clear
outcome—such as a military victory or a peace agreement—it may be unclear when a post-conflict period begins, especially if armed
violence remains widespread.
Armed violence that occurs neither in conflict nor in post-conflict settings is broadly identified as non-conflict.
Armed violence that occurs neither in conflict nor in post-conflict settings is broadly identified as non-conflict. The concept of
non-conflict armed violence cuts across a range of sectors—from criminal justice to public health—and includes violent events that
may be categorized according to the perpetrator’s motivation (such as political or economic), the setting (such as domestic or urban),
or the type of victim or perpetrator, or their relationship (such as gender-based violence or organized crime). The definition of
non-conflict armed violence overlaps with those of terms such as crisis and fragile situations.
While access to weapons does not, in and of itself, drive armed violence, it is worth noting that civilians hold roughly 75 per cent
of the approximately 875 million firearms possessed worldwide, as estimated by the Small Arms Survey. Non-state armed groups and
gangs hold a small proportion of these weapons (just 1.3 per cent). National armed forces and law enforcement agencies account
for less than one-quarter of the global stockpile.
An estimated 42–60 per cent of lethal violence around the world is committed with firearms. For each person killed with a
firearm, at least three more survive gunshot injuries. The vast majority of violent deaths occur in countries and territories not
considered conflict or post-conflict environments.
The vast majority of violent deaths occur in countries and territories
that are not considered conflict or post-conflict environments.
Armed violence in non-conflict settings encompasses different armed actors and various forms of violence. Armed actors
include individuals and groups that have access to weapons;
the groups can vary in size, affiliation, and structure.
The relations between armed actors and types of armed
violence may evolve over time, with armed actors potentially
involved in several forms of violence. Furthermore, different
types of armed violence may overlap, interact, and mutually
reinforce each other. In countries where armed violence is
endemic, large-scale organized violence may coexist with criminal violence, human rights violations, and terrorist attacks, along
with various forms of interpersonal violence.
It is generally accepted that the state must retain the monopoly on the legitimate use of force in order to guarantee its citizens
a certain level of physical security. States may decide to delegate
or outsource the use of force to others, such as private security
Roses bearing the faces of people killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook
Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, January 2013.
© Timothy Clary/AFP Photo
companies. In other cases, rebel groups, gangs, and other criminal organizations challenge the state’s monopoly, often leading to
the loss of the state’s capacity to control violence in part or all of its territory.
Governments may also abuse their monopoly on the use of force, using violence against their citizens for policy ends. Weak
institutions and poor performance with respect to the rule of law damage a state’s legitimacy and citizens’ trust. In such situations,
citizens may pursue their own means of security, often by procuring arms, supporting local vigilante-type defence forces, or refusing
to disarm. These steps can lead to a downward spiral as violent private actors increase their power at the expense of governments.
The desire to secure access to land and to natural resources has long acted as a driver of armed violence. Indeed, the relationship between land, territory, and community is crucial to understanding non-conflict armed violence. In general, the more a group
is organized, the more likely it is to be interested in dominating territory. Highly organized groups use violence to establish and
preserve their power. Groups that have close links to their communities, such as pandillas in Nicaragua, use violence more sparingly and may function as security providers for the communities in which they operate—either formally, as private security
companies, or informally. In contrast, groups with transnational origins (such as the maras in Latin America) are often less constrained in their use of violence.
Whether violence is tied to an ‘armed conflict’, ‘post-conflict’, or ‘non conflict’ situation is more than semantics. The populations
involved in a clearly defined armed conflict can access international resources that may be denied in the absence of explicit labelling.
More specifically, the armed conflict label can trigger UN Security Council interventions, the deployment of international peacekeeping missions, and the provision of aid.
Yet states that experience high levels of non-conflict armed violence tend to be left to their own devices to combat the scourge,
regardless of whether they have the necessary tools or means. In response to such situations, some countries have declared ‘war’
on organized crime groups, for example by using military tactics in an effort to curb the threat. Yet this can lead to an escalation
New practices in dealing with non-conflict armed violence are emerging, including humanitarian deployments to non-conflict
zones and the granting of refugee status to persons fleeing forced gang recruitment. Nevertheless, multilateral and multi-sectoral
initiatives—such as the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, which aims to reduce armed violence in both
conflict and non-conflict settings—have just begun to play a role in this respect.